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Self Publishing Tips: Why Your Print Book May Outlive Your Ebook

Updated on August 8, 2016
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Heidi Thorne is a self publishing expert, author of 21 (and counting!) business books and eBooks, and a former trade newspaper editor.

In the 1990s, I was teaching adults how to use popular software programs (WordPerfect anyone?). One of the class lectures discussed storage of data. At that time, the 3.5" floppy disk was probably the most recognized storage media and successor to the true "floppy" 5.25" disks. So when I told the class that one day soon we'd be relying on CDs for data storage, they had a good laugh. Personal computers with CD-ROM drives were coming around, but those with drives to "burn" data onto a CD were still in their infancy.

Fast forward to the 2010s, CD (even DVD) read-and-write drives are already quite passé. Everything seems to be headed "to the cloud." In all honesty, the cloud uses media and equipment somewhere... just not right where we are as it had been in the past.

So what does this have to do with you and that book or ebook you're self publishing now? A lot! The sad state of losing intellectual property treasures because they've been stored in or on obsolete media and equipment is discussed in the following article from the Chicago Tribune:

Sobering thoughts, eh?

Media for the Millennia

Let's take a step back in time... like a few thousand years.

We can still "read" the stone walls in the pyramids at Giza. Do we understand all of it? Well, we'll leave that to the Egyptologists. But let's think about this: The ebook you may have published on a CD may be inaccessible in 25 or 50 years, simply because we may not have the technology readily available to read it. The messages on the pyramid walls can still be viewed thousands of years later and, barring any physical disaster befalling them, may still be readable in thousands of years from now.

Am I suggesting that you start carving your musings on slabs of clay, stone or cave walls? Of course not! But I am suggesting that you think about how you're archiving and offering the written work you've so painstakingly created.


Print Books STILL Work

I encounter many new and even established authors who say, "I just want to do an ebook." I have to question why. Is it because they don't have a high degree of confidence in their work to invest in print books (even though today's Print On Demand technologies make that almost a non-issue)?

If you're vacillating between a print book and an ebook, I'd encourage you to do both simply because print books, if stored properly, can survive decades or longer. As I look on my personal book shelves, I have books that were published and printed in the mid-20th century. And when I was dabbling in antique book collecting, I "picked" books that were 50 or more years old, one was even from the Civil War era.

For authors using Amazon Createspace and Kindle Direct Publishing as their self publishing platform, another reason to go print AND ebook is to potentially make more sales. The Amazon Matchbook program (currently available as of this post's publish date) offers readers the opportunity to purchase the ebook version of a print book at a reduced price when they purchase the print version. This definitely meets the needs of readers who read books in multiple formats (like me!). This means extra money for authors. If you're not using Amazon/Createspace/KDP, see if the self publishing platform you are using offers any similar programs to help increase your revenues from multiple formats.

Publishing in both print AND electronic media, you can satisfy your readers' consumption habits now and when any ebook versions may have become obsolete.


When an Ebook May be the Better Choice

Even though publishing both print and ebook versions of a book is financially and technologically more feasible than it's ever been in history, there is one case where ebooks might be a better choice. If you're addressing a topic that may have a very short shelf life, just doing an ebook might make sense, simply because formatting for print can take more time.

For one of my books that addressed a marketing technology topic, I did both an ebook and print book. However, after just a year or two, the regulations regarding that technology were changing to such a degree that the book became dated... almost instantly. The advice, from a marketing standpoint, was still sound no matter what. But in the context of using that technology, it was dead. So I decommissioned that book in both versions. I still have some copies sitting around in storage and I wasted my time creating the print layout. Ack!

When addressing a rapidly changing topic area, assess your investment regardless of whether you do print book, ebook or both.

Things to Consider When Choosing Book Formats

  • Evergreen Availability. Is the topic you're discussing in your book evergreen? If your topic will be relevant today and decades from now, choose longer lasting media for your work or produce in multiple media formats. Click here to learn more about evergreen content.
  • Republishing in New Formats. Once your book is done, keep abreast of changes in technology related to book distribution. The introduction of a new reading technology or app may provide you with an opportunity to republish your existing book, creating a "new" offering for your readers. Click here to learn more about repurposing your existing works.
  • Monitoring Your Archived Book Manuscripts. Recently, I was thinking about rewriting a book that I had written when I was teaching business writing skills many years ago. I couldn't find it anywhere! All I could find was some remnant of my work from those days on 3.5" floppy disks. I haven't had a floppy disk drive on a computer in years. Even if I eventually located a disk containing that lost work, will I be able to access it? Probably not. A lost opportunity! Click here to learn more about updating your books.

Disclaimer: Both the publisher and author have used their best efforts in preparation of this information. No representations or warranties for its contents, either expressed or implied, are offered or allowed and both parties disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for your particular purpose. The advice and strategies presented herein may not be suitable for you, your situation or business. Consult with a professional advisor where and when appropriate. Neither the publisher nor author shall be liable for any loss of profit or any other damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential or punitive, arising from or relating to your reliance on this information.

© 2016 Heidi Thorne


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    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 19 months ago from Mississauga, ON

      Thank you, Heidi. Yes, I will contact my publisher and ask if he would go for both the routes. What I have noted is that the adventures and exploration loving community goes for printed books. I found out this because I was going through a list of 1000 books on adventures and explorations in order to find which one of those were completed in close friendship with dog(s) (my interest of course LOL).

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 19 months ago from Chicago Area

      Hi Suhail! First, congrats on getting an offer from a publisher for your youth market book! That's something to celebrate.

      In terms of generational interest in ebooks versus print, it's a moving target. Some reports are that print is still very strong, in some instances stronger than ebooks. Then other reports claim ebooks on mobile devices are strong. It's in quite a state of flux, regardless of readers' ages.

      I'm not surprised that your brother is still required to go the print textbook route. But I wouldn't be surprised if it was all e-versions either. My husband is going back to school for a degree program and last year he had $0 in textbook fees since all materials were provided online. But then the year before, he had hundreds of dollars in print textbook costs. Again, it's in such a state of flux. So there's no clear winner and there probably won't be for a while.

      So that's why I'm definitely recommending a multi-format self publishing strategy. It'll be interesting to see if your publisher produces your book in both print and e-version. Keep us posted.

      Thanks for adding some important insight to the conversation. Again, congrats on your book offer! Have a great weekend!

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 19 months ago from Mississauga, ON


      Thanks for sharing yet another educating hub on writing and publishing. Your hubs contain valuable information. This reminds me that I have to revisit your article on self-publishing.

      Since I have an offer from a publisher in the country of my origin (my intended material will be addressed to the youth there) to get the book published through them, I guess I don't have to go for the comparison with eBook.

      I will be more interested in finding out whether the option between traditional books and eBooks is more generational or not. Have you published any hub on that? Btw, I see that my 12 years younger brother is till on physical books and universities and schools still make it mandatory to read books (not eBooks) for their reading assignments.

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 19 months ago from Chicago Area

      I do, too, FlourishAnyway! :) I believe something that engages multiple senses is always a winner. Thanks so much for adding that thought to the conversation. Have a great weekend ahead!

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 19 months ago from Chicago Area

      Hi AliciaC! You're so welcome. I appreciate you taking the time to check 'em out. Have a great weekend ahead!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 19 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      You always provide very useful information in your hubs, Heidi. Thank you for sharing the great advice in this article.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 19 months ago from USA

      I like the thought of being able to put my hands on something. You provide excellent ideas as to when to go what route.

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 19 months ago from Chicago Area

      Billybuc, I agree that doing both formats--print & ebook--is the way to go these days. Interesting that thinking for the future includes print, eh? Thanks for stopping by and you have a lovely Wednesday, too!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 19 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm doing both with all my books. It just seems like the right thing to do...besides, hard cover book sales increased last year for the first time since ebooks hit the scene. I suspect this will all level out eventually, but real books will never disappear.

      Have a wonderful Wednesday!